May 20, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Thirteen Part 3

The Terrace could never be considered just a restaurant, even by human standards. Six very large, very elegantly tiered platforms gently sloped down the landscaped hillside, spanning from the second floor kitchens and enclosed dining/buffet area—which also included access to the open walkway that straddled the entrance chamber—down to the lush park level with its cobbled walkways, decorative flowerbeds, and open sound stage for daily theatrical and musical productions.

Each widening white marble tier and gracefully graduated steps created a semi-circle, with the sound stage as focal point, and easily accommodated fifty tables per tier, allowing plenty of room off the main traffic areas for privacy and larger groupings. In times of emergency more tables could be set up or removed altogether and stored, forming a makeshift auditorium of chairs and steps for all residents and helpers.

Open twenty-four hours, daily, patrons of The Terrace were pampered with immaculate snowy white tablecloths and linen napkins, Bromon crested flatware that had a solid comfortable feel when used, fresh cut flowers or potted plants at the peak of blooming, and crystal flame lighting encased in glass lamps that increased in illumination as the day/night cycle rotated.

While the food courts in the Galleria and Hi Top Lounge were great for a healthy quick bite or takeout, The Terrace offered seven-course dining of the highest quality cuisine. Through the assistance of human helpers and the Crystal Lake Acres Corporation, Terrace staff regularly received meat and dairy products, along with hundreds of cases of different cultural wines that were stored in temperature controlled vaults throughout the city. Over the years Thalians had become connoisseurs of homemade fruit wines that offered higher alcohol content and no chemical aftertaste, making the house wines a popular choice for celebrations.

The crunch of stones and pounding feet preceded Debra and Damon around the wide gradual curve of the jogging path. Water droplets still covered the manicured lawns from the dawn sprinklers, filling the air with a moist freshness that smelled of pungent soil and scented blossoms.

Leaving the path, the sovereign and consort stopped at the bottom of the Terrace steps for a final set of stretches, arms and legs wet with sweat, faces flushed radiant with health. Since becoming the first official Thalian couple to reside in the city, they were regularly spotted early each morning on the more arduous jogging paths that ended below The Terrace for a full breakfast at the sovereign’s table on the second tier.

“All I’m saying is the consort needs to set an example,” Damon lightly panted, retrieving his bottle of water from the freshly scrubbed marble step. Dressed only in tight knee-length shorts and knob-soled running shoes, he toweled off his chest and arms before slipping on a lightweight black tank top.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Debra snapped pulling on black sweatpants over her exercise shorts. “Where do I find an hour, let alone two, for fittings? I don’t want a new wardrobe. I don’t need a new wardrobe.”

Damon watched well-toned arms pull the matching outsized sweat top over her head, his eyebrow sharply raised as if to say “I rest my case”. “What are you going to do, where black sweats to the Jubilee?”

“Are you saying the marriage is off if I don’t get a new wardrobe?”

His thumb lightly brushed the tip of her chin. “Personally, I find you appealing whatever you decide wear. But the elders are not quite as enamored with their consort as I am. Why don’t we start with one piece of clothing for now? Charon has designed a stunning gown just for you, that won’t be unveiled until Jubilee.”

He signaled the wait staff to begin serving their pre-ordered morning meal. Down on the stage fresh flowers were being artfully arranged amongst faux Greek columns and marble benches. At the moment a lone harpist practiced an afternoon number that promised to sooth diners and passersby, a Thalian composition that would be accompanied by several flutes and violins.

Seeing Damon at his sovereign best with staff and residents made Debra a little uncomfortable inside. Not that she would ever call him a politician. But he was a man born to incredible power over others and carried the heavy mantel of his position extremely well. Maybe what she really felt uncomfortable with was her own inability to face people as gracious and diplomatically.

“What if I don’t like Charon’s dress design?” Debra murmured irritably. “We haven’t covered wardrobe in my consort lessons yet. Am I allowed to wear what I want?”

“It’s just a design, love,” Damon responded gently. “Charon will be more than happy to change whatever you don’t like. She’ll ask you a few questions about your preferred lifestyle, colors, accessory choices, then draw up several designs for different occasions and you’ll pick the ones you like and any modifications you want.”

Using the Bromon crested fork, she managed to push her scrambled eggs from one side of the plate to the other. “I guess you think I’m being silly.”

“I think, other than school, you’ve never had to deal with a public life. You’ve never had a big family around you.” He leaned closer, his long fingers reaching out and holding her smaller hand. “Your life above made you the most self-reliant person I’ve ever known; you can improvise better than anyone. I don’t want to change you, Debra. Just help you find your full potential by introducing you to a little more adventure where choices are concerned.”

Debra drew in a small calming breath and pushed aside her uneaten breakfast. He was using his best velvet voice on her again, the one that had kept her trying to survive here in the real world. Only this time the marital bond made the truth of his words sweetly evident. “All right, I’ll find some time this morning.” Glancing at the plain watch on her wrist, she grimaced, tossing the white napkin on the table. “Crap, I’m going to be late for class.”

Had there been other children and young adults in the city, Debra would have been part of a class of ten or fifteen students studying control techniques for several basic psychic skills; most likely in one of the large teaching rooms on the second level. The handful of second-generation babies remaining in the city were born with mature psychic knowledge and insight, yet were too fragile physically to leave the nursery for extended periods. Being trapped in so short a life, theirs was an existence of play and loving indulgence.

With no young people to train, the lecture theaters and labs stayed empty, instructors competed amongst themselves to retain and expand proficiency, and like Eron, elders and grand masters often reminisced about the old days of educating and yearned to be of use again someday. Now, suddenly, Debra was theirs to shape and mold, a Vion no less, and created a zealous fire of determination to provide the sovereign’s consort with the utmost training and curriculum.

In her honor, all instructors had sworn the highest possible standards would be applied to Debra’s training, whether she agreed to such in-depth tutoring or not.

Not sure whether to consider her instructors’ undivided attention as a blessing or a curse, Debra felt compelled to follow along with the chosen courses even though there were times she felt like an adult attending kindergarten class.

When she asked to learn Thalian psychic ways she had not envisioned hours of breathing and visualization. What did breathing have to do with using the killing power?

Now very late for her first class of the day, Debra waved a timid greeting and hurried over to join grand master elder Mica on the agreed to bench in the park. Being in a class of one meant lessons were often held in the park or some tucked away alcove in the entrance chamber, sometimes even in an empty area on a lower tier of The Terrace.

“You’re late.”

April 29, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Thirteen Part 2

Life beneath the surface settled back into a comfortable routine for all its citizens and helpers, in spite of the growing unrest above. Duran’s daily blogs often spoke of new mob violence spreading out from urban areas across the country as Americans struggled with a plunging economic recession, a collapsed housing market, high unemployment, and skyrocketing oil and gas prices. The global market fared little better, the disturbing details of spiraling interconnected dependency readily broadcasted over all online media outlets.

Even government secrets were no match for Duran’s unparalleled hacking skills. High level communication channels with the latest encryption coding and sites with clearance above ‘top secret’ were regularly monitored by the small department of human-Thalian interrelations for any news that could affect the underwater cities or the Thalian nation’s chances for living in the sunlight.

One such classified report concerned the correlation between the thinning ozone layer to systemic infant and elderly fatal diseases, with one in every three adults between the ages of twenty and sixty subjected to some form of skin or organ cancer. In the years since the atmospheric virus wiped out the entire on-land colony and construction crew, the humans had done nothing but bicker amongst themselves as to the validity of ozone sickness and the green house effect.

Now, over twenty years later, humans were finally beginning to acknowledge the connection to deaths and the environment, a lethal trend which in turn created havoc with normal climate zones, bringing abnormal rain and snowfall, super tornados and hurricanes, mild winters and hotter summers that fashioned perfect irrevocable droughts. The doom-sayers called it the end of the world. Thalians called it gross mismanagement by a race with a predilection toward self-destruction.

The original Thalian directive had been to quietly intermingle with the human population; to become as human as possible. Future generations would eventually see the complete assimilation of the Thalian nation. But the archives and stories about the past and a willingness to sacrifice in order to survive would live on, maybe destined to become the stuff of legends and myths.

Not anymore. If the humans were too weak to save themselves, then Thalian psychic strength and technology would infiltrate their governments and set a new direction for them. Of course, the modified directive still awaited a cure or atmospheric virus inhibiter before beginning phase one of Redirect.

“This is ridiculous, Rowan. How many damn skin samples do you need?” Debra chafed, propped on the high stool by the lab counter, arm stretched out flat under some kind of moving kinetic energy microscope. Her customary black sweatshirt had been pushed up almost to shoulder height, revealing several slender pinkish lines from earlier scrapings.

Over the past week Debra had been paged to the cell research lab on the third level no less than six times. On each occasion numerous samples had been taken from different areas of her body for study and comparison to those who had died from the atmospheric virus and also with a diverse selection of samples from the viral database that housed genetic data from every Thalian resident on Earth.

“Sorry, Deb, but you’re the only living Thalian donor we’ve got who’s immune to the virus,” Rowan mumbled, nose pressed almost to the monitor as new data filled the screen. “And don’t forget, no self-healing until all the testing is done. I don’t want the findings skewed with data from the same location.”

“Doesn’t the human half of me automatically corrupt your findings?” Debra grimaced as a new painless inch-long scraping automatically started closer to her wrist. The scowl remained on her face as dark eyes glared at Rowan’s back. She only had forty-five minutes until her next class and Damon had promised to let her be master to his slave. It was difficult enough finding time to be alone in a city full of people and helpers and sovereign’s duties and classes. Something had to give and it was usually sleep.

Frustrated by the delay, Debra sighed and went back to boring imaginary holes in her current nemesis.

Rowan grinned, noting the pouting mouth and snapping brown eyes. One could almost feel the irritation radiating in waves from the younger woman. “Don’t you worry about that, honey. Your genetic makeup is predominantly Thalian. The human substance you have is easily factored out.”

“Really?” Debra said, thinking of her mother’s new found happiness. “Don’t tell Edith that. Let her go on believing I’m half and half.” Ever since the truth had come out about Debra’s parentage, Edith had made a point of texting, Thalian style, or dropping by one of her classes almost on a daily basis. Debra loved seeing her mother but was beginning to feel like a rescued abductee whose parent refused to let them out of their sight.

“Whatever you and I discuss, medically speaking, is privileged,” Rowan replied tolerantly. All in all, Debra continued to be more resilient and adaptive than many had first expected. With most everyone but the fish hoping for a moment of her time, Rowan couldn’t resist having a little fun. “And speaking as your doctor, how much longer is this game going to continue.”

The scowl deepened over tired eyes as Debra stared blankly at the other woman.

Failing to suppress the grin on her face, Rowan offered a teasing shrug. “I was with elder Mica yesterday in Damon’s office.” She watched as recollection dawned in Debra’s widening eyes. “Muffled voices coming from the side room, Damon coming out breathless and flushed, his shirt buttoned up wrong. Or reports of skinny-dippers in the pool after midnight two nights ago. And my favorite, putting one of the lifts out of order for forty-minutes during the dinner hour. That game. Need I go on?”

Bare lips opened, then shut without a sound. What was the use in denying it. The fact that their extracurricular activities were probably known all over the city brought a momentary flush of embarrassment to her cheeks. Yet deep inside Debra felt a tingle of rebellious arousal just thinking about Damon waiting for her by the waterfall.

“Not much longer,” Debra said with quiet disarming openness. “I’m paying off a debt that ends tomorrow night.” The final scraping completed, the machine hinged back, freeing Debra’s arm. “Are Damon and I to be called before the elders like misbehaving teenagers?”

Eyes twinkling with amusement, Rowan calmly remarked, “Manton let me know something was going on.” In truth, she felt more than a little envious of her brother’s sex life. “Sensors notified a couple of his key security people. Nobody else knows. But in this city the computer is always watching and our sovereign should know better,” she smirked. “Now, as your doctor, I recommend a good night’s sleep instead of playing games. But I doubt either of you will listen to me. So get out of here and tell Damon he owes me dinner at The Terrace.” Hands on hips she shouted at the closing door. “And no self-healing.”

“More bloody samples,” Debra groused, running for the nearest lift, and wondered how much trouble she’d be in if the damn machine was suddenly found broken. Knowing Rowan she’d probably use a dull knife to scrape off her samples instead.

April 22, 2012

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Thirteen Part 1

The city’s twilight nightfall had already cycled into simulated daylight by the time Damon and Debra thought about leaving the Heart. A forty-eight hour leave had been encouraged by the council of elders, a kind of belated honeymoon in honor of the couple’s now mutually accepted marital bond.

Duties dictated only two days could be spared before earthbound nation business demanded the sovereign’s full attention again. Having been born to leadership, Damon loved his work as supreme administrator over all Thalians. The long hours and hard decisions came easily to his psychic disposition and physical fortitude. The deeply respected and much lauded council of elders often presented protocols and procedures for all Thalian citizens to live by while trapped below the surface. But in the end, the sovereign’s word was law.

The onset of this year’s Jubilee would be steeped in spectacular Thalian pageantry, as the public joining of Damon and Debra brought a bittersweet end to the propagation experiment started thirty years ago. Their marital bond would also be the first Thalian marriage recorded on Earth, in spite of Debra being the last of her kind.

No less busy than her new husband, Debra had promised to settle down as a serious student in tutored psychic studies and control, and to help Rowan in viral research by supplying numerous new skin and blood samples for the database. The delivered datapad had provided a syllabus of day-long courses and instructors, each day to end in the council chamber for instruction in the duties of a consort, under the tutelage of the elders. For the time being, Manton’s combat classes were relegated to any available spare time, which wouldn’t be much.

Willing to please her new relatives, Debra accepted their enthusiasm in the training of her Thalian half, up to a point. And wasn’t above saying no if pushed too far. Her reclusive nature had yet to adjust to all the constant attention and people that sometimes seemed to zap her strength. But mostly she felt confident at eventually adapting to her new life knowing Damon and Manton were there to beat on in hand-to-hand when she needed an outlet for her frustration.

Their first night on holiday Damon had placed a mumbled call to Manton, who showed up ten minutes later at the door, offering a small package to Damon and a friendly wink and wave at Debra. Where only a half-hour earlier he had been reluctant to even enter the bedroom, now, with package in hand, Damon couldn’t seem to get her underdressed and on the bed fast enough.

His black eyes had blazed with need and love as he draped the thin gold chain about her bare neck, laying the slender gold and crystal Talisman pendant gently between her breasts. It was an exact replica of the bonding pendant he had given her nine years ago in the dream world. Only this time Debra understood its meaning and the ritual words that followed. First Rites may have been claimed and taken in the dream world, but loving each other as physical beings made their joining and journey to the Heart of the Talisman no less special.

Not considered a state of mind or another dimension, the Heart was a sacred place outside of the body, a gift to all bonded Thalians from The Mother and Father God of Home. It was not a solid existence holding onto material things, but more a realm of energy and color and the influence of love’s purest form. Within the journey to the Heart a bonded couple gave much more to each other than just heightened physical pleasure. Those willing to take the time experienced the immortal joys of Home in the shared blending of intellect and lifeforce; a renewing and strengthening of a mortal commitment to each other.

Awareness returned slowly, the only major downfall of the journey to the Heart. The exhaustive toll on the mind and body afterward promised a day of sleeping and little else. They would be lucky to crawl from the bed to the bathroom during the next twenty-four hours. Still in their large comfortable bed, Damon held onto Debra and rolled over onto his back, determined to keep their bodies joined before falling back to sleep.

A stray beam of light helped pull Debra’s consciousness back to the surface from a long comforting slumber. It took a moment to realize the drapes were slightly parted, offering a small point of reference for the widening slice of light that eventually cleaved the darkened room in half.

Fingering the Talisman crystal pendant about her neck, Debra smiled. Many of the memories of the Heart had been demoted to hazy flashes of thoughts and vague vibrant colors. What remained clear was the feeling of an infinite wholeness with another human being, to know another so completely and realize how alone life had been before.

The bond with Damon was real. She could sense him, even now while he slept. How remarkable to know the slight curve of his lips was caused by a deeper sense of contentment in mind and body. The smile broadened as his eyes slowly worked their way open to mere slits. Debra sympathized with his efforts to make that final leap into wakefulness.

“I wanna be inside you again, but I’m too damn tired,” he whispered, covering a yawn. “So I’ll imagine it in full color and be just as happy.”

Debra sprawled across her side of the bed, strong healthy thigh muscles almost groaning in pleasure with her version of deep manipulating stretches. “Why are all these astral travel things so exhausting afterward?”

His large hand rubbed over the bristling whiskers on his neck and chin. Had they still been on Thalia, unwanted facial and body hair would have been easily repressed for a month or more with a localized discharge of channeled energy. Even though he had been raised learning the ways of shaving paraphernalia, occasionally Damon ignored recommended human hygienic procedures and indulged in the effortless precision of his own kinetic power.

Eyes closed, he felt the tiny bristles dissolve in the customary blue glow of painless energy, leaving behind softly smooth golden-toned skin. “I can only surmise there must be payment for the privilege of experiencing perfection,” he chuckled, yawning again. “It’s the reason why the Heart is saved for special occasions.” He rolled his head on the pillow and gazed at Debra and grinned. “Takes too long to recover. Can you imagine the state of the city if everyone was popping off for a trip to the Heart?”

Slender fingers traced the clean strong jaw line where only moments ago had been a dark shadow of prickly stubble. “Please, tell me I can do that with the hair on my own body and I’ll be your sex slave for a week.”

Damon’s tongue lazily flicked over his full bottom lip as he contemplated a full week of Debra at his beck and call. “The week begins—seven full days and nights—as soon as we’re completely recovered, which should be day after tomorrow.”

“Before I say deal, let me clarify the terms,” Debra said, humor in her eyes. “If I can, you have to teach me first.”

“Done,” Damon said without hesitation, pulling her silky nakedness against his chest so they could cuddle spoon-fashion in sleep. In truth, a week of unbridled pleasure would be hard pressed to say exactly who was master and who was slave.

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